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Energy Law Shows Way To Combat Global Warming

David Chan – SCMP | Updated on Nov 05, 2008

On October 1, National Day, an important piece of legislation known as the Civil Energy Act came into effect.

The law has six chapters and 45 articles detailing the country’s vision of how to deal with the effect of global warming. There are chapters on energy savings for new and existing buildings, savings that may be achieved through the energy supply system, and legal liabilities for non-compliance.

The legislation seeks to promote energy savings and increase efficiency in the use of energy in buildings. The provisions are all-encompassing and include residential, commercial, service, educational and health-care buildings. It also seeks to encourage the development of solar, geothermal and other alternative energy sources.

National state offices will be established for long-term planning, co-ordination, standard setting and implementation of policies, while provincial offices will be responsible for supervision and exploring financing options.

The law provides tax breaks and possible changes to tariffs to promote energy savings and also imposes penalties for violations.

Chapter 2 deals with new buildings and promotes the use of new technologies and state-of-the-art materials. It restricts the use of materials with high-energy consumption. It also has provisions for building design, including penalties for designs that are not energy-efficient, and compulsory use of better thermal materials, heating and cooling systems and lighting.

Chapter 3 details how existing buildings must make necessary changes in a co-ordinated manner and empowers local governments to make assessments on whether energy-saving systems can be retrofitted. All governmental buildings are to draw up feasibility plans while old private residential buildings are encouraged to make low-cost improvements.

In Chapter 4 the law provides regulations to monitor the operation of large public buildings and record annual energy consumption.

Due to the increased sophistication of building systems, the training of technicians should be enhanced and improved. Targets will be set by respective city governments for individual public buildings.

The new regulations will have an impact on developers and investors in the country’s property market. They need to keep themselves abreast with pertinent provisions of the law, especially on the available technologies and which are applicable and advantageous to their properties.

It will be interesting to see whether the new law will have a huge impact on the country’s air pollution problem and energy consumption.

The legislation may also see in the near term a commitment in other areas of building sustainability. It may also lead to a change in the voluntary rating system for building sustainability or the three-star labelling system which was introduced in 2006, into something mandatory.

This could encompass areas such as water efficiency, use of sustainable materials, waste and pollution reduction, and ecology.

For Hong Kong, the passage of the new law should put pressure on the administration of Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen to also address issues pertaining to energy use and building design. At present, the city has no mandatory building energy code, although a proposal is likely to be sent to the Legislative Council next year.

A task force of consultants has been created to advise the Hong Kong government on the technicalities of such a legislation. While one hopes the scope of the bill will be comprehensive, the likely result would cover only energy consumption based on the current voluntary energy codes.

From a practical point of view, the legislation could encompass areas such as light pollution, that may raise controversies. Would locals and tourists alike prefer to see Hong Kong Island’s bright advertising lights dimmed to achieve cleaner air? Nonetheless, I’m sure all building users would welcome a reduction in management fees from lower electricity usage.

The proposed Hong Kong legislation is only targeting commercial buildings, or about 20 per cent of the city’s building stock.

While a phased introduction – that is, targeting larger energy-consuming buildings first – is desirable, we must not exclude residential buildings that account for 50 per cent of our building stock.

Many of Hong Kong’s residential buildings were built decades ago and will need significant upgrades, which means added cost, to make them compliant to even very basic energy standards.

Many of the new residential towers that are rising in the city have little or no energy-efficiency features.

As such, any new legislation on energy use in Hong Kong is likely to be less comprehensive than the mainland counterpart.

Still, a watered-down energy legislation is better than none at all, as it is still a significant step towards developing sustainable buildings. We could also assume that the Legco will pass the bill speedily as many members have publicly indicated their commitment to the environment.

The government can promote the issue of efficient energy use by engaging the community in an active and intelligent discussion of the issue.

The bill should provide government departments with the tools to effectively manage those who will be directly affected by the legislation, namely, developers and landlords, building management companies and building owners.

It is our hope that through such a legislation and its implementation, Hong Kong will do its bit in reducing global warming.

David Chan is an architect and a director of an international property consultancy

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